When the news came out that Pearl Jam were entering into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame many fans had a single question: Which drummers are getting in? After all, the group had a Spinal Tap situation in their early days where five drummers sat behind the kit over a mere eight-year period.
Dave Krusen came first, but left shortly after work wrapped on Ten in early 1991. Matt Chamberlain arrived next, but lasted just long enough to appear in the “Alive” video. Dave Abbruzzese stuck around for three years, playing on Vs. and Vitalogy, basically the height of their success. Jack Irons was around for four years in the mid-1990s and played on No Code and Yield. Finally, Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron got the gig in 1998 and has stuck around to this day, by far the longest tenure of any Pearl Jam drummer.
The Hall of Fame ultimately decided to induct only Krusen and Cameron, a decision that has understandably enraged Abbruzzese. We phoned Dave Krusen to hear his take on the induction, the story of his brief time in the band, the aftermath and his hopes for a reunion at the induction ceremony.
Congrats on the Hall of Fame.
Thank you. It’s very exciting.
How do you feel?
I’m extremely stoked. It’s a massive surprise for me, really. Someone texted me something you guys had online. They sent me a screenshot. I was pretty surprised.
I don’t know. It had just been so long ago. But it was just a really pleasant surprise to be included in all that. I’m thrilled.
Is this something you ever really thought about? Did you think you’d be included?
I didn’t think I would be. A couple of friends would say, “When they get in the Hall of Fame…” But I never gave it a lot of thought. I don’t play in the band, so why would I? But I was quite surprised and very excited. I’m very proud to have been a part of that thing. I’m glad to be included.
They often take the founding members, so taking you in does feel fair.
In that sense, definitely. I was there at the beginning, but it was such a short period of time. It’s very humbling, for sure.
Has anyone at the Hall of Fame contacted you yet?
No. I heard about it online. I shot [Pearl Jam’s] management a congrats thing and Kelly [Curtis], their manager, said “Congrats. See you in April.” That’s pretty much it.
You’re definitely going, right?
I’m definitely going.
When was the last time you spoke to the guys in the band?
I’ve run into Mike [McCready] a couple of times. I went to their show in Memphis about two years ago. But rarely. I probably haven’t talked to Eddie [Vedder] in 20 years. I haven’t seen Jeff [Ament] in years. I’ve seen Stone [Gossard] a couple of times.
Where did you see Ed 20 years ago?
Well, I played in Hovercraft with his then wife [Beth Liebling]. We were all hanging out in San Diego and they were working on, I think, Yield. He had some cassettes and he was going to play me some stuff, but he never got around to it. We were talking about getting together and jamming just for fun, but I hadn’t heard from him and I didn’t give him a call because I figured he was busy. Right after that I left Hovercraft because I couldn’t make ends meet playing in that band, so I had to go do some other stuff. I don’t feel like we had any sort of falling out. We just don’t cross paths. I live in California.
I want to talk about some of the history here. What’s the short version of how you wound up in Pearl Jam in the first place?
A friend of mine, Tal Goettling, was in a band called Son of Man. They played a lot of shows with Mother Love Bone and Soundgarden. He actually told me that Jeff Ament said they were looking for drummers to jam with and they mentioned me. Jeff said, “Tell him to call me. I’m in the phone book.” So I looked them up in the phone book and called Jeff and he said, “Do you want come down and jam and bring drums?” I was like, “Definitely.” I was a huge Mother Love Bone fan. I went down to Potato Head Gallery, which was an art space. They had the basement converted into a jam room. I went down there and we played for about a couple of hours. I thought it sounded great.
Was Ed there at that point?
Ed was not there yet, and I didn’t know anything about if they had a singer, if they were talking to anybody. I didn’t ask a lot of questions, so I didn’t find out a lot. But Ed showed up about two days later. They asked me if I wanted to come back the next day and I was like, “Of course.” Then Ed came up a couple of days after that. I had never heard of him, never met him, knew nothing about him. I met him at the rehearsal space and he just started singing off the bat.
Do you recall the first song you guys played?
I don’t. It might have been “Breath and a Scream” or “Just a Girl,” maybe.
What was you first impression of Ed as a singer?
I was very surprised to hear such a massive voice. As soon as he started singing I was struck by the uniqueness of his voice. He also just started constantly scribbling words down, trying different stuff. He was right into the fire. It was like, “Nice to meet you. Here we go.” My impression of him right off the bat was that he was a really hard worker, a great voice and a cool dude.
Those early songs like “Black” and “Alive” came really quickly, right?
Stone had “Black” and “Alive.” He had demos of them. I remember hearing the demos. Matt Cameron played on them. I tried to approach them like he did, but obviously I can’t play as good as him, so I tried to turn them into my own thing. But yeah, those songs just came together really easily. Stone would start in on a riff, whether it was song he had going or one where he just started on a riff, even if it just an idea, and ten minutes later we’d pretty much worked it into something we could work with.
Few great bands found their sound as quickly as you guys did. It seems like it was this instant thing.
I thought so.
What are your memories of the first couple of shows? I’ve seen videos where Ed seems pretty shy.
Yeah. With the first one, we just kinda went down and played a club and didn’t tell anybody. I don’t think I found out until maybe that morning. I know I was super nervous just because I might not know the songs, and I’m just nervous in general. I remember that first gig. We’d just been in the basement working on songs. I hadn’t seen him onstage yet, so I had no idea. It seemed like a real natural progression to me. The first time he played he didn’t just jump onstage and get in everyone’s face. We definitely were just concerned with playing music and making it sound good. I think by the second show, he’s such an intense guy that that just took over.
You were just around for the first 20 or so shows, right?
No idea. I know we did a west coast leg with Alice in Chains and then a few more shows, not very many.
For most of it you were called Mookie Blaylock. Do you remember the day it became Pearl Jam?
Not really. It was probably some point in March [of 1991] because we couldn’t use Mookie Blaylock, obviously. I remember we were throwing around ideas and then they let me know what the name was and I thought it sounded really cool. We didn’t have a name until the record was pretty much recorded, and then we did a couple of shows as Pearl Jam.
You left right after the recording of Ten?
After that I think I did two or three more shows.
It was because of a drinking issue?
Yeah. I’m an alcoholic. I had really been just sick of my disease at that point and could just not stop drinking.
Was it difficult in the years after that to watch them get bigger and bigger?
Ummm… I think it was harder for people around me than it was me. I had to either accept or let it run me over. I had to accept it and move on with my life. I realized, also, that’s music and that’s what I wanted to do. The upside of it was it got me to take notice of my life and get my shit together. The cool thing was they are really good people. It’s not just a musical influence. They’ve influenced me in how they’ve conducted themselves.
Did you see the Pearl Jam 20 documentary?
Oh. They don’t give much time to the drummers. They blow past the whole thing in about 40 seconds.
The whole thing with Pearl Jam and drummers, honestly, I feel bad because I don’t understand people’s high school clique conversations on Facebook and whatnot. People can have a favorite drummer. I understand that. But to try and tear one down to build the other up, I don’t understand that. I can’t get with that. I think Matt Cameron is, by far, the best drummer the band has ever had, in my opinion.
The Hall of Fame are just taking in you and Matt Cameron. Do you think that was the right call?
Oh God, I have no idea. I mean, I’m so … I have no idea. I do know there’s a lot going on on Facebook. I guess somebody is starting a petition or…I don’t know. I’m staying out of that. I do know this: Having been in that band, when you leave you are still representing them. That was a big part of how I got myself together. I felt like just because I’m not in that band, I’m still out there and people are like, “Oh, you played in that band?” You’re like an ambassador and you better keep your shit together. That whole thing was instrumental in me getting my shit together. The whole drummer controversy with the band, obviously Matt Cameron should be there. Beyond that, I guess I’ll just stay out of it.
Do you think you’ll wind up playing with them that night?
I’d love to.
I’d love to watch you guys play “Alive” again. It would be great for the fans.
Yeah. I think the fans would dig that. I’d love to do it.
Do you think it’s likely?
I don’t think it is likely, but I’m down.
At the very least, you get to stand behind the podium with all those guys, get the award and give a speech. I’m sure it’s going to be an emotional moment.
Yeah. It’s intense. I’m very excited. It’s awesome. I’m super stoked, and I do hope I get to jam a tune with them. I think it’ll be awesome. Mainly, I hope [Matt] Cameron isn’t bugged.
I doubt he will be. It’s gonna be a fun night with Journey, ELO, Yes, Joan Baez…
I’m super stoked. I’m a big ELO fan. I love all those bands.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m just taking some time off, not doing anything. I don’t have anything to promote. I worked really hard this year doing a bunch of random gigs, so I decided to take a couple months off. I’m not going to start jamming with anyone until maybe February or March.
Well, I’ll see you in April. And I’m very glad they included you. It feels just.
Thank you. I appreciate you saying that.
I really hope you get to play one song and take the band full circle back to the very beginning.
I’ll try to. We’ll see. I’m going to work on it, for sure.
Are you going to reach out to anybody before the ceremony to try and get the ball rolling?
Yeah, I’m gonna reach out. I’ll probably wait until after the holidays.